“‘Pray for us!’ is the message that comes from the people from the USA to the Greek Orthodox Christians. ‘Orthodox Christians hold your faith!’ With these words ends the interview of Archimandrite Damascene, abbot of St. Herman’s of Alaska monastery in California, in this last part.”
Two of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most important monastery founders are commemorated on August 8, Saints Zosimas and Sabbatius of Solovki.
Though not my patron saint (Abba Zosimas of Palestine, whom the Lord led to find St Mary of Egypt and bring her edifying life story to the Church), I have a special devotion to St Zosimas of Solovki; both share a brave yearning to seek God through the monastic way in the wilderness.
The Transfer of the Relics of Saints Zosimas and Sabbatius of Solovki took place on August 8, 1566, on the third day of the altar-feast of the Solovki monastery of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The relics of the saints were transferred into a chapel of the Transfiguration cathedral, built in their honor. Beekeepers pray to these saints for an increase of bees. (OCA)
Saint Zosimas is also commemorated on April 17, and is reproduced below; the Life of Saint Sabbatius may be found on September 27. You can read about them also in the classic book on the monastic movement in the Russian north, The Northern Thebaid (St Herman of Alaska Press, Platina CA).
Venerable Zosimas the Abbot of Solovki
(April 17, OCA) — Saint Zosimas, Igumen of Solovki a great luminary of the Russian North, was the founder of cenobitic monasticism on Solovki Island. He was born in Novgorod diocese, in the village of Tolvui near Lake Onega. From his early years he was raised in piety, and after the death of his parents Gabriel and Barbara, he gave away his possessions and received monastic tonsure.
In search of a solitary place, he journeyed to the shores of the White Sea, and at the mouth of the Suma he met Saint Herman (July 30), who told him of a desolate sea island, where he had spent six years with Saint Sabbatius (September 27).
Around the year 1436, the hermits crossed the sea and landed at the Solovki islands. There Saint Zosimas had a vision of a beautiful church in the sky. With their own hands the monks built cells and an enclosure, and they began to cultivate and sow the land.
A warm and inspiring first-person account of the author’s journey to the Holy Mountain as a young man, his experiences with different monasteries, counsels received from various monks and elders, and how the Lord directed his steps and helped him grow in his early days as a monk.
Published in the early years of St Gregory Palamas Monastery (Hayesville, Ohio) under the direction of Bishop Maximos and the sponsorship of the GOA Diocese of Pittsburgh, this beautiful memoir exudes the fragrance and savor of Holy Orthodoxy, and may be of special help to monastic seekers in discerning the Lord’s will for their lives, and in helping them live it to the fullest, as they heed the call to the narrow way to the Kingdom of God.
Rather than being a didactic book of instruction like The Arena and Letters To A Beginner, Recollections of Mount Athos weaves monastic counsels through a charming narrative of unforgettable ascetics, strugglers, abbots and elders, all seen through the wide, perceptive eyes and warm, faithful heart of young George, the future Archimandrite Cherubim, and all overshadowed by the grace of God.
From Chapter 1, First Impressions:
From the time I was fourteen years old, the vivid descriptions of two Hagiorite [i.e., Athonite] hieromonks who were rigorous in practicing the virtues, the Elders Paisios and Chrysanthos, had molded Mount Athos in my soul like a place that, though terrestrial, touches heaven. My burning desire for that place urged me toward the big decision: I was going to live there forever…
As soon as my foot stepped on land, my first concern was to kneel behind an old building an with emotion kiss that holy ground. I had vowed to do it. I used to say: “My Panagia [Greek for “All Holy”, a loving term for the Virgin May, the Theotokos], enable me one day to find myself on the Holy Mountain, and the first thing I will do will be to kiss its ground.”
My favorite quote:
“Talk like a monk, look like a monk, sit like a monk, walk like a monk, eat like a monk, sleep like a monk, think like a monk, pray like a monk.” ~ Papa Joachim, St Anne’s Skete, Mount Athos, p. 82.
Featuring an Introduction by Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh, ‘Monasticism in the Orthodox Church’, with a helpful glossary of terms.
“This book springs from the author’s own personal monastic experience on Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain. Archimandrite Cherubim Karambelas spent only four years on Mount Athos. He was eighteen years old when he went to the Holy Mountain with the intention of staying there forever. However, he was forced, due to ill health, to return to wartime Athens. He was not to return to the Mountain again until many years later, and then only to visit a dying monk, a friend, who wished to see him before he died. At that time he was the abbot of the Holy Monastery of the Paraclete which he established, located on the outskirts of Athens.” — From the Translator’s Preface
A classic manual on the Christian spiritual life, by Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, this is the second in this series of posts. See post 1 here.
The Arena: Guidelines for Spiritual and Monastic Life
By Ignatius (Brianchaninov) Translated by Lazarus (Moore) Foreword by Kallistos (Ware); Holy Trinity Publications, Jordanville NY.
From the publisher’s description:
This is one of the most important and accessible texts of Orthodox Christian teaching on the spiritual life, and and not unlike the better known “Philokalia.” The author, St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) describes this work as his legacy “of soul saving instruction.” He promises that “Those who carry out these instructions will enter into possession of spiritual riches.”
In an age even more alienated from spiritual culture and rooted in materialism, his words pose both a challenge and an invitation to all who ever say to themselves “There must be more to life than this.”
For anyone who desires to deepen their own spiritual journey based upon an encounter with Christ as God, this book is essential reading. Its contents may ultimately be accepted or rejected, but they will be very difficult to ignore.
For the first of a new series of blog posts, I would like to share a thin but extremely weighty and important book which was recommended to me several years ago when I was preparing to test the monastic life:
“The work of success in your monastic life—the work of your salvation, is, so to speak, in your own hands; and would it not be a shame, would it not be sad, to lose it from your hands irretrievably?”
—excerpt from LETTERS TO A BEGINNER
This book was so popular and beneficial for those leading a spiritual life in pre-Revolutionary Russia that it was reprinted several times and distributed to all monasteries, sketes, and many parishes. It was a key guidebook for women monastic aspirants, giving them a right understanding of how to dedicate their lives to God.
The Rule or “Typicon” governing Orthodox monastic life is based upon that of St. Basil the Great (d. 379), which he synthesized from the tradition of the early Desert Fathers. This Rule was later adapted by various great fathers of monasticism throughout the centuries: St. Sabbas the Sanctified in the 5th century, St. John Climacus in the 6th century, St. Theodore the Studite at the end of the 8th century, and others. It likewise provided the foundation for the great Athonite tradition which evolved in the 10th – 14th centuries, and the revival of monasticism in Russia and Moldavia in the late 18th century under the inspiration of St. Paisius Velichkovsky. Today St. Basil’s Rule remains an important part of the spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church.
Orthodox monks and nuns come from all walks and manner of life. In former times the greater number were of peasant stock, but at the same time many a great name lay hidden under the humble black habit and the new Christian name received at tonsure.
Certainly there were to be found many unlettered and uncultured monks, because the cloister was and is open to all, regardless of social rank or education. But if one reads the daily offices and grasps their scriptural and theological wealth, and if one hears the readings from the Holy Fathers — all of which are the monk’s daily fare, one begins to think twice about the intellectual superiority of their critics.
It must not be forgotten that it was the monks who translated these services and writings into their native tongues, a continuing labor in which nuns also take part. There are also spiritual writings that are unique to each nation, the beauty of which is unsurpassed in secular compositions, but which are little known outside the cloister. In monasteries were painted world famous icons and from them came exquisite embroideries and priceless illuminated manuscripts. All were written, painted and worked anonymously for the greater glory of God, reflecting that humility which is the keynote of all Christian monasticism. Continue reading “An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism – Part 2”→
“If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hadst, and give to the poor, and come, follow Me” (Matt. 19:21).
From the beginning these words of Christ have been a clear call to all Christian monks that they have felt impelled to obey to the letter.
Although Christ lived and worked among men, participated in the functions of His day, counted women among His friends, and although He instituted no monastic order, monasticism may well be considered the sum and substance of His teaching. Once He had entered upon His mission, He had no family life–in fact, He denied blood relationships (Matt. 12:48-50). He spent many hours in the wilderness in solitary communion with His Father. He said: If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
The advice of Jesus to the young man who sought a greater perfection, beyond that of following the ten commandments, was to sell all he had and to follow Him (Matt. 19:21). Another man He challenged to follow Him without delay, without even taking time to attend to his father’s funeral (Luke 9:60). These are hard sayings for people in the world, but admirably suited to monks and nuns.
Let us here explain what we mean by “the world”. St. Isaac the Syrian defines it as:
“…the extension of a common name to distinct passions … passions are a part of the current of the world. Where they have ceased, the world’s current has ceased.” In other words, people in the world are held by the pull of their emotions into a vortex of preoccupations; they disperse and scatter abroad, as it were, their soul’s integrity, diversifying its primal simplicity.”
The ideal of a life entirely given over to God can be found on many pages of the New Testament. St. Paul held virginity in high esteem and advocated it for those who could bear it (I Cor. 7: 1, 7, 37, 40). We find many examples in Holy Scripture of men and women giving their lives unreservedly to God and to the service of the Church. In the first instance there were the Apostles and the Seventy and the women who followed and ministered unto Jesus; then there were the deacons and men like St. Luke and St. Barnabas, and women such as Dorcas and Phoebe, who worked with St. Paul. Nevertheless, it was only toward the beginning of the fourth century that Christian monasticism appeared as a definite institution.
St. Pachomius lived in the Egyptian Thebaid, and is to cenobitic monasticism what St. Anthony the Great is to the eremitic (solitary) way, and what St. Nilus of Sora is to skete life in Russia. He is commemorated on May 15.
Saint Pachomius the Great was both a model of desert dwelling, and with Saints Anthony the Great (January 17), Macarius the Great (January 19), and Euthymius the Great (January 20), a founder of the cenobitic monastic life in Egypt.
Saint Pachomius was born in the third century in the Thebaid (Upper Egypt). His parents were pagans who gave him an excellent secular education. From his youth he had a good character, and he was prudent and sensible.
When Pachomius reached the age of twenty, he was called up to serve in the army of the emperor Constantine (apparently, in the year 315). They put the new conscripts in a city prison guarded by soldiers. The local Christians fed the soldiers and took care of them.
When the young man learned that these people acted this way because of their love for God, fulfilling His commandment to love their neighbor, this made a deep impression upon his pure soul. Pachomius vowed to become a Christian. Pachomius returned from the army after the victory, received holy Baptism, moved to the lonely settlement of Shenesit, and began to lead a strict ascetic life. Realizing the need for spiritual guidance, he turned to the desert-dweller Palamon. He was accepted by the Elder, and he began to follow the example of his instructor in monastic struggles.
Once, after ten years of asceticism, Saint Pachomius made his way through the desert, and halted at the ruins of the former village of Tabennisi. Here he heard a Voice ordering him to start a monastery at this place. Pachomius told the Elder Palamon of this, and they both regarded the words as a command from God.
As I prepare for another round of monastery travel and photography, I thought it might be inspiring for you (as well as for me!) to revisit some of my early posts on this website, which try to sketch out the contours of “Why” I am undertaking this two-year pilgrimage, “What” it means to me, and “Where” I hope it will lead.
With some minor editing, this is the section I wrote in Autumn 2015 on the Inspiration for the North American Thebaid.
The inspiration for The North American Thebaid Project springs primarily from the example of seminarian Gleb Podmoshensky, whose 1961 pilgrimage to monastic sketes and settlements across the United States, Canada and Alaska, and his photographic slide show from these visits, had an inspiring and pivotal impact on a certain young man: Eugene Rose.
Gleb titled his presentation, “Holy Places in America,” and described his encounter with Eugene as follows:
Before Eugene’s amazed expression, Gleb recalls, “a new world of Apostolic Orthodoxy revealed itself. Color icons and portraits of saints and righteous ones of America; scenes of Blessed Fr. Herman’s Spruce Island in Alaska; renewed miracle-working icons that had been brought to America from Shanghai; abbesses and schemamonks in America; Canadian sketes; Holy Trinity Monastery and New Diveyevo Convent in New York, which brought the tradition of the Optina Elders to America, and so on. I gave a brief explanation of the slides, and of the phenomenon of the martyrdom of Holy Russia. Finally I told of the martyric fate of my father and its consequences, which had brought about my conversion to Christ and had eventually brought me here…
“The lecture was finished. My host, Eugene Rose, the future Fr. Seraphim, drawing in his breath, said, ‘What a revelation!’”